The CEO of maverick smartphone maker Smartisan, Luo Yonghao, faced off with the founder of start-up Zealer, Wang Ziru, in an unprecedented online live debate on Wednesday evening.
Their confrontation, centring on Smartisan’s very first smartphone model T1, was highly anticipated on the internet and was a first in China’s technology industry’s history.
At the centre of the storm was Wang’s 30-minute video earlier this month where he demonstrated the T1’s multiple flaws. The 26-year-old, who founded the cellphone-testing company by posting video reviews, said the gadget did not live up to what Luo and his companies advertised.
The T1 is the first product Smartisan released in the mainland. It launched months ago and sells for 3,000 yuan (HK$3,775) each.
The entire debate dragged on for almost three hours and was broadcast live on popular video-sharing website Youku.com, which effectively made it the site’s top event. Youku also splashed a complete replay on the website.
With over 2.5 million people watching the debate live, it was the most anticipated live broadcast in the website's history, Youku told South China Morning Post. The debate's replay was viewed another 2.8 million times and garnered 20,000 comments as of Thursday at noon.
Smartisan, a relatively new company, has said that the T1 was gaining an edge over any domestic counterpart such as Huawei, Xiaomi or Meizu.
The phone runs on the company’s own operating system, based on Android, and the T1’s exterior was crafted by a former chief designer of Apple.
During the debate, held at the Youku.com’s broadcasting room in Beijing, Luo rebuffed most of Wang’s criticisms and shifted some of the blame on quality flaws in the parts sourced from other suppliers.
He also hit back at Wang by questioning his review’s motive and pointing out that Zealer received eight million yuan in investments from four domestic smartphone makers.
Wang responded that his company’s operation and editorial team were able to remain absolutely independent.
Both Wang and Luo disagreed on most of the key issues throughout the debate, except for a pledge to present more evidence in the future to back up their claims.
The discussion bordered on belligerent and there were few issues resolved, but audiences said they enjoyed it very much.
Both sides had no shortage of fans who expressed support on websites and cast votes on online polls about the debate.
“It is the closest thing to a televised presidential debate that Chinese people can have,” one netizen said.
Niu Wenwen, the editor-in-chief of business news magazine The Founder, said the debate made commercial competition in China more civilised.
“Founders of both parties show up themselves and debate under the sun without relying merely on PR stunts or backstage smear campaigns,” he wrote on his blog.
Many other technology critics viewed it as a lose-lose scenario. They said Luo was unable to prove that the T1 was better than other domestic smartphones, while Wang failed to convince the public his objectivity.
Zheng Jun, a technology correspondent based in Silicon Valley, said “both Smartisan and Zealer are losers. But Youku, media, and the public have enjoyed themselves during this show”.